Population and environment: a global challenge - Curious
relationship between population, economic growth and the environment. These .. population. The key to this is efficient natural resource management. In order . While population increase has been declining since the mids, experts We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more meetings present opportunities to reframe the relationship between people and the planet. improvements in resource use efficiency, including reducing waste;. The relationship between population growth and environmental degradation may appear to With the development of fertilizers, pesticides, and more efficient farming Appropriate management of the world's water resources is essential for .
No matter the underlying cause of environmental change, the failure to recognize over-exploitation of resources in a changing environment ultimately led to the demise of these civilizations; where the civilization continued along the normal course, until one day the bottom fell out [ 78 ].
The inability to change perceptions and habits is thought to be responsible for the collapse of many civilizations. These cultural failures are linked to social and economic organization in societies that limit opportunities through myopic views [ 6 ].
For example, the Norse preferred to continue farming on degraded land rather than transition to a fish-based diet, and the Easter Islanders continued to make ahu and maoi figures despite dwindling forests.
Alternatively, the ability to change behaviours and practices can reduce the impact or immunize the society against collapse. The successful transition from hunter-gatherer to plant cultivation and animal rearing in new locales prevented the Natufians of Southwest Asia from population collapse. Today, the focus is placed on agriculture to feed the growing population. However, often neglected are the ecosystem services that supply agricultural systems: In turn, many agriculture systems act as a siphon, taking resources from natural land and giving little to nothing in return.
In the short-term, there are evident anthropogenic benefits to intensive agriculture. The surge in food production over the last 60 years can be attributed to the Green Revolution, but these practices also contribute significantly to environmental damage [ 11 ].
There are multiple feedbacks between the human, natural and agricultural systems. Motesharrei and colleagues [ 3 ] argue that the feedbacks between the Earth and human systems must be incorporated in the models to avoid underestimating environmental challenges that humanity faces, and to avoid missing important non-trivial dynamics of the coupled system.
They suggest that because of these feedbacks, changes in the environment can affect human health, reduce economic productivity and decrease agricultural yields. For example, increased consumption of water in densely populated cities can result in lower agricultural yields, as groundwater diminishes and freshwater quality declines. This over-exploitation of ecosystem services raises concerns about the long term sustainability of intensive agriculture.
The Earth is not limitless. The impact of so many people on the planet has resulted in some scientists coining a new term to describe our time—the Anthropocene epoch.
Unlike previous geological epochs, where various geological and climate processes defined the time periods, the proposed Anthropecene period is named for the dominant influence humans and their activities are having on the environment.
In essence, humans are a new global geophysical force. We humans have spread across every continent and created huge changes to landscapes, ecosystems, atmosphere—everything. However, while population size is part of the problem, the issue is bigger and more complex than just counting bodies. There are many factors at play.
Essentially, it is what is happening within those populations—their distribution density, migration patterns and urbanisationtheir composition age, sex and income levels and, most importantly, their consumption patterns—that are of equal, if not more importance, than just numbers.
A formula for environmental degradation? The IPAT equation, first devised in the s, is a way of determining environmental degradation based on a multiple of factors. At its simplest, it describes how human impact on the environment I is a result of a multiplicative contribution of population Paffluence A and technology T.
As well as bringing the link between population and environment to a wider audience, the IPAT equation encouraged people to see that environmental problems are caused by multiple factors that when combined produced a compounding effect.
More significantly, it showed that the assumption of a simple multiplicative relationship among the main factors generally does not hold—doubling the population, for example, does not necessarily lead to a doubling of environmental impact. The reverse is also true—a reduction of the technology factor by 50 per cent would not necessarily lead to a reduction in environmental impact by the same margin. The IPAT equation is not perfect, but it does help to demonstrate that population is not the only or necessarily the most important factor relating to environmental damage.
Focusing solely on population number obscures the multifaceted relationship between us humans and our environment, and makes it easier for us to lay the blame at the feet of others, such as those in developing countries, rather than looking at how our own behaviour may be negatively affecting the planet.
Population size It's no surprise that as the world population continues to grow, the limits of essential global resources such as potable water, fertile land, forests and fisheries are becoming more obvious. But how many people is too many? How many of us can Earth realistically support? Carrying capacity is usually limited by components of the environment e. Debate about the actual human carrying capacity of Earth dates back hundreds of years.
The range of estimates is enormous, fluctuating from million people to more than one trillion. Scientists disagree not only on the final number, but more importantly about the best and most accurate way of determining that number—hence the huge variability.
The majority of studies estimate that the Earth's capacity is at or beneath 8 billion people. PDF How can this be? Whether we have million people or one trillion, we still have only one planet, which has a finite level of resources. The answer comes back to resource consumption.
People around the world consume resources differently and unevenly. An average middle-class American consumes 3.
Population, Consumption and the Future
So if everyone on Earth lived like a middle class American, then the planet might have a carrying capacity of around 2 billion. However, if people only consumed what they actually needed, then the Earth could potentially support a much higher figure. But we need to consider not just quantity but also quality—Earth might be able to theoretically support over one trillion people, but what would their quality of life be like?
Would they be scraping by on the bare minimum of allocated resources, or would they have the opportunity to lead an enjoyable and full life? More importantly, could these trillion people cooperate on the scale required, or might some groups seek to use a disproportionate fraction of resources?
If so, might other groups challenge that inequality, including through the use of violence? These are questions that are yet to be answered. Population distribution The ways in which populations are spread across Earth has an effect on the environment. Developing countries tend to have higher birth rates due to poverty and lower access to family planning and education, while developed countries have lower birth rates.
These faster-growing populations can add pressure to local environments. Globally, in almost every country, humans are also becoming more urbanised. Bythat figure was 54 per cent, with a projected rise to 66 per cent by While many enthusiasts for centralisation and urbanisation argue this allows for resources to be used more efficiently, in developing countries this mass movement of people heading towards the cities in search of employment and opportunity often outstrips the pace of development, leading to slums, poor if any environmental regulation, and higher levels of centralised pollution.
Even in developed nations, more people are moving to the cities than ever before. The pressure placed on growing cities and their resources such as water, energy and food due to continuing growth includes pollution from additional cars, heaters and other modern luxuries, which can cause a range of localised environmental problems. Humans have always moved around the world. Look specifically into the feasibility of spatially disaggregated indicators. Set up data collection and processing systems.
Where feasible, build retrospective time series for these indicators as a starting point for analysis. This is an important and sometimes difficult task, since even in the case of a local environmental problem some of the populations affected may be located far from the area where the problem arises. Illustrate potential differences arising from alternative demographic scenarios. All these activities are meant to produce utilizable results in the policy making context i.
In most if not all cases, their promotion at government level and successful pursuit will require two types of activities: Finally, it is worth noting that population-environment linkages are, in many settings, an interesting addition to traditional population education themes: Field experiences in communication campaigns focused on such themes, built upon assessments of the people's perceptions regarding environmental change, its causes and consequences, can be utilized with profit in new contexts.
How ecological feedbacks between human population and land cover influence sustainability
UNFPA support could be considered for some of these activities. UNFPA first stated its interest for studying selected aspects of the population-environment nexus several years ago already, in its Handbook of Policy Guidelines. In the population and environment area this task was effectively tackled only in ; the outcome is a well-articulated Guidance Note on Population and the Environment, the substance of which is the following.
Population and development policies and plans should take environmental links and concerns into account. UNFPA can help this process through "studies for incorporating demographic features into policies and plans as well as programmes designed to integrate the direct and induced effects of demographic changes on environment and development programmes".
Policy-oriented research and analysis should bear on "the interaction between demographic trends and factors and sustainable development [and help] identify priority areas for action and develop strategies and programmes to mitigate the adverse impact of environmental change on human populations, and vice versa".
Examples of important issues are: